Arrangements were under way for The Royal Ballet’s 1972 visit to New York, and Sol Hurok was demanding a world premiere to give focus to the season. MacMillan therefore choreographed a short pas de deux for Lynn Seymour and Rudolf Nureyev. Side Show is a comic pas de deux for a moustachioed circus strong man and a ballerina; a Victorian cartoon of a frayed music hall act long past its prime. Stravinsky’s intent when he wrote the Suites was also satirical; he said that when he wrote the polka he was imagining Diaghilev as a circus ring-master cracking his whip.
It was decided to give Side Show a try out before New York, and so performances were arranged for the last day of the Group’s visit to Liverpool on 1 April 1972. In retrospect it was clear this was a mistake. Liverpool became very excited, for this would be the first time that Nureyev had danced in the city. Side Show was not what the audience expected – they had anticipated seeing Nureyev in a classical guise - and the performance was badly received.
However Andrew Porter The Financial Times was appreciative of Side Show’s intrinsic merits. “Brilliantly devised to show off all the things the two of them do best, it includes fleet, funny references to their (and others’) achievements, some happy moments of mutual mockery, and a good deal of witty new invention perfectly keyed to Stravinsky’s spirited miniatures. Seymour proves herself (once again) the most subtle and seductive of comediennes.”
First performance: Royal Court Liverpool. 1 April 1972
Company: The Royal Ballet New Group
Cast: Lynn Seymour, Rudolf Nureyev
Music: Igor Stravinsky, Suites Nos. 1 & 2 for small orchestra
Costumes: Thomas O’Neil
Benesh notation score: Monica Parker (1972). Working score